'Creative and ingenious' veteran and prisoner of war dies aged 100
- Credit: Archant
A heroic war veteran and former prisoner of war has died at the age of 100.
Edwin "Eddie" Walter Hunn, a resident of Chiswick House care home, Norwich, has been described by his family as “a survivor with a wicked sense of humour”.
His son Kevin Hunn, 69, of Norwich, said: “He’s our local Captain Tom, who also sadly lost his life on the same day.
“He was very determined and clever, as well as creative and ingenious – these traits are what helped him survive.
“He also had a wicked sense of humour and was very good at thinking through problems. An amazing man with a brilliant legacy.”
Born in East Dereham on June 7, 1920, he grew up on the north Norfolk coast in Wells, where he moved aged seven.
The oldest of four brothers, his father worked as an engineer while his mother was a nanny to the aristocracy. The couple believed in teaching their sons how to support themselves, which lead to Mr Hunn leading an inventive childhood.
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He spent a lot of time out on the marshes learning to fish, sail, and shoot. He also spent time with the head coastguard where he would sit by the stove and hear stories from his travels around the world as a merchant seaman. Befriended by Captain Phillips, a Boer War veteran, he taught Mr Hunn and his friends tracking, camouflage, and navigation.
Mr Hunn also earned his own pocket money by selling rats' tails alongside his friend Dick Daleston, as well as feathers to Pensthorpe, and rabbits, then later motorbikes they repaired themselves and boats, including the first hydroplane in Wells.
A bright student, he passed his eleven-plus examination but could not attend the local grammar school due to lack of places. He was an excellent pupil in maths, English, and art, and left education aged 14 to work at Wells lime works.
In 1938, aged 19, he joined the Territorial Army as a driver mechanic before he saw action in Singapore, and spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway - dubbed the Death Railway because of the vast amounts of deaths during its construction.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Mr Hunn was enlisted in the army and served in the 5th Norfolk Battalion. He was sent thousands of miles across the North Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town. When Mr Hunn arrived in December 1941, after the strike on Pearl Harbor, their convoy was diverted to Singapore. On arrival, his platoon was sent north into the Malaysian jungle, despite none of them having any form of jungle training. Thankfully, Mr Hunn’s youth spent in Wells helped him with the challenges ahead. There was fierce hand to hand fighting and Mr Hunn drove the lead Bren gun carrier.
On his return to Singapore, he was forced to surrender, was captured and taken to an encampment in north east Changi in Singapore with 100,000 other prisoners of war.
There was no food, as the resources were not in place, but armed with fishing nets he found he was able to catch food. Sometimes they had to resort to eating rats and snakes. However, he was soon sent to work in Thailand, where the Japanese soldiers had ambitions to connect the train line between Singapore and India. He worked in various camps including the construction of the bridge of the River Kwai.
Many of the soldiers contracted malaria, and Mr Hunn himself became inflicted with parasites and dengue fever. The living conditions were diabolical and Mr Hunn would spend each morning beating the bugs, sometimes scorpions and centipedes, out of his bed slats - once he was even woken by a tiger. He also endured regular beatings with bamboo sticks by the Japanese guards. Mr Hunn fell seriously ill and had to have a make-shift blood transfusion with blood donated by an Australian man, in which he had a one in four chance of dying as the blood was not tested beforehand.
At the end of the war, Mr Hunn was instructed to walk 30 miles from the base hospital to Bangkok airport to freedom - at this point he had dropped from more than 11 stone to six and a half. He boarded the plane and when they landed in Rangoon in Burma, he travelled by boat across the Mediterranean to reach home.
His future wife Doris, nee Jackson, who he had met nearly four years earlier at a dance in Northwich, Cheshire, had received just one message letting her know he was alive. By this point, she had given birth to their son, Brian, in 1942. He later died aged 14.
The couple married five weeks after Mr Hunn returned from the war, and relocated to Wells together before moving to Norwich, and later Great Yarmouth. Mr Hunn took on an accountancy career after a high school correspondence course.
In 1960, they moved to Great Yarmouth, where they ran a guest house. He lost his wife of 69 years in 2014.
Speaking of his parents, Kevin said: “When dad retired in 1964, they travelled around the world and had so many adventures together. They often went off the beaten track.”
After losing his wife, Mr Hunn began giving talks about his experiences of the Second World War, even during his last year spent at Chiswick House.
Mr Hunn celebrated his 100th birthday in lockdown last year and was sent 107 cards following an appeal by the care home. He also received a telegram from the queen and an email from the High Commission of the Republic of Singapore.
Sam Bailey, of Black Swan Care, described him as “warm-hearted and a true Norfolk boy” who “made quite the impact” when he first arrived there.
He was popular with local schoolchildren, who visited the home prior to lockdown, and wrote a book on his experiences, A Guest of Nippon. He also enjoyed playing scrabble and pool, which he continued to win at the age of 99.
Mr Hunn died on February 2 with Covid-19, after developing a UTI.
He has two surviving children, Jeanette and Kevin, six grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, and three great great grandchildren.
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